Swedish schools not up to standard

Swedish schools are not keeping up; the results are not good enough and the problem is in part a structural one. But there are some rays of hope in a fairly dismal situation.
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“There are big differences among schools. This means that things are not working well at a system level,” said Professor Martin Ingvar from Karolinska institutet at an IVA meeting focusing on education.

He believes that national politics have subjected schools to far too many experiments for far too long. That, according to Ingvar, is the reason schools are underperforming.

“Schools are supposed to compensate for the varying abilities of students. That’s not working. The differences are instead increasing between, for example, boys and girls. An effective education system would be closing the gap.”

One reason why instruction in schools is not up to standard is the problem of teacher recruitment. And also, according to Ingvar, that teaching is a low status profession.

“The qualification criteria to enter teacher training programmes are low. It’s even worse in the case of maths and sciences where we have numerous unfilled teaching positions.”

Essentially, the model for school learning is an unsophisticated one. Skills are lacking, particularly reading skills.

“Reading skills are essential if students are to be able to learn what they’re reading about. There’s a strong correlation between reading grades in year four and grades at the end of secondary school,” he said, stressing that the academic discussion about education is limited to a narrow group.

But there are also more positive views on what can actually be achieved in Swedish schools. Annely Tärning is Principal of Tyresö School. At her school all instruction has a scientific foundation. The focus is on ensuring that students will be able to successfully take on the challenges that await them after they leave school.

“We make use of everything we can learn from research, but it is, of course, not possible to improve everything. The best situation is where teachers, school administrators and parents work together,” she said.

Politicians should not be involved in detailed management. They need to have faith that schools will do their best.

Södertälje, where Boel Godner is Municipal Executive Board Chairman, is one example of a bleak situation that was able to be turned around.

“Up to 2011 everything was wrong with our schools. So we employed a Director of Education and decided that all instruction should be based on research and science. The result of this is seven consecutive years of improvement,” she said.

In the schools in Södetälje municipality teachers work without being lectured by politicians.

“The teachers know that we have high expectations for them and we film the lessons of our teachers with expanded leadership responsibilities,” said Godner.

The national politicians, from both the Government and the Alliance, present at the IVA meeting were optimistic about the future, despite the poor results in international school evaluations. It is actually possible to achieve good results in today’s schools.

Contact information

Martin Wikström
Senior Project Manager, Expert Research Policy
Phone +46 8-791 29 58